While there are a number of interesting things that happened in the second episode, I noticed something that stood out rather sharply in my mind; related to how I view this show to be a shounen fantasy series. Sure the narrative exists in a fantasy setting, but there is a specific fantasy or myth that plays (or is at least hinted at) in the narrative: the fantasy of the meritocratic organization.
Look here, the postal service in Amberground takes the metaphor of the beehive. The postal workers are called Letter Bees, and the headquarters is called the hive. The metaphor is either loosely used, or aggressively appropriated by a distinctly male perspective.
A bee society is matriarchal. Like other colony type insect societies, it is headed by a Queen and are populated primarily by female workers. The males are usually drones who only exist to fertilize the queen. Amberground’s postal service is a co-ed organization, with a generic title which isn’t clear yet if it is an official position or merely a skill ranking: the Head Bee.
Light and Blue Night Fantasy (DVD special) tells us that the current Head Bee is male (the TV OP should make this clear as well). While this upsetting of the matriarchal bee society may be indeed read as a male co-opting act. The concept of the meritocracy (which all minority groups claim to want) is another. Why do I say it is male? Simply because government as we know it, as it has been practiced, and specifically the government of agencies, organizations, and corporations are historically male constructs. I am not making an essential claim to their maleness.
Moving on: I also call this a fantasy because meritocracies rarely exist. This is easy enough to get and I won’t elaborate on it here. However, I will go into why they actually fail to work more often than we care to admit.
It is very rare to see an organization wherein the chief executive officer/president is also the best practitioner of what the organization does. The Head Bee is the best Letter Bee in the office. But in reality, is the head of the post offices in the world the best couriers? Is the CEO of FedEx the best courier in their payroll? Is the head of a record company their best musician? Can the CEO of Ford, Porche, or Toyota build cars in their own shop by themselves… or even design them?
It’s tempting to think that there is something essentially wrong with this, but I want to share something called The Peter Principle (Wikipedia):
The Peter Principle is the principle that “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.” It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 bookThe Peter Principle, a humorous treatise which also introduced the “salutary science of Hierarchiology”, “inadvertently founded” by Peter. It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. This principle can be modeled and has theoretical validity. Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”.
The positions of authority often require a broader skill set than that of a front-line employee. The scope and consequences of decisions are greater. Even if the CEO of say, McDonald’s is the best ever at flipping burgers and preparing fries with that, his or her skills will deteriorate for lack of practice because most of her time is spent behind a desk or in conference rooms.
But there might be cases wherein this hasn’t or don’t apply!
For you history and industry buffs:
While I don’t think the best mangaka runs the show at Weekly Shonen Jump, isn’t Tezuka Osamu the head of his own studio? How about Miyazaki Hayao at Studio Ghibli? How about Anno Hideaki at GAINAX? Now these studios may have upcoming directors and animators climbing up the ranks, but these will be in the same position as Gauche in Letter Bee. Like him they’ll have to take the leadership position by their own hands. But I didn’t do the research. You tell me.